Nursery Rhymes – Literacy, Imagination and Identity

Nursery rhymes are traditional poems sung to small children. They often contain historical references and fantastical characters, and many have been rumoured to have hidden meanings.

The earliest nursery rhymes documented include a 13th century French poem numbering the days of the month. From the mid 16th century children’s songs can be found recorded in English plays. Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man is one of the oldest surviving English nursery rhymes, first appearing in The Campaigners, a play written in 1698 by Thomas d’Urfey (1653 -1723). Interestingly, D’Urfey, active as a writer in the days when the term ‘wit’ was held almost as a career epithet, also composed songs and poetry and was instrumental to the evolution of the Ballad opera.

The first English collections of nursery rhymes were published before 1744.  Tommy Thumb’s Song Book and Tommy Thumb’s Pretty Song Book included rhymes including London Bridge is Falling Down, Hickory Dickory Dock, Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary and Baa Baa Black Sheep; the very same songs popular today, nearly 300 years after they were first published. In fact they were probably sung for many years before publication, passed down in the oral tradition.

There is a lot of speculation about the words of these rhymes with suggestions that they refer covertly to insalubrious or violent topics. It is commonly believed that Ring a Ring o Roses is about the black plague that hit London in 1655, with the ‘rosie’ thought to refer to the rash that developed and ‘we all fall down’ (dead) being the result, but although this theory fits with the illustrative lyrics, there is actually no evidence to support this.

John Newbery’s collection of English Rhymes, Mother Goose’s Melody (or Sonnets for the Cradle) was published in 1765. This is the first record of many of today’s classic nursery rhymes. Newberry’s compilation seems to come from a variety of sources including drinking songs, historical events, traditional riddles, proverbs, ballads, lines of Mummers’ plays and even ancient pagan rituals.

The name Mother Goose is associated with Maurice Ravel’s piano suite (Ma Mère l’Oye) which was originally written for two children of Ravel’s acquaintance and subsequently orchestrated for ballet. The movements of Ravel’s suite relate more to fairytale characters such as Sleeping Beauty and Tom Thumb than to the nursery rhymes of Newberry’s publication.

There are rumours that Mozart wrote Twinkle Twinkle Little Star. He didn’t. But he did write variations on a French children’s song, Ah! vous dirai-je, maman, originally an anonymous pastoral song dating from 1740. The words to the popular English lullaby are from an early 19th-century English poem by Jane Taylor, The Star. The tune has been used for other songs too, including Baa Baa Black Sheep.

Despite, or maybe because of, the lack of real historical clarity, nursery rhymes and their weird and wonderful characters continue to entertain. History and the role of music in society are undoubtedly interwoven in a fascinating way into the sometimes seemingly nonsensical words of the songs. Pop Goes the Weasel is a nursery rhyme and singing game, first found in a manuscript of 1853, which not only references a pub that still exists, The Eagle on City Road, London, the words were added to an already existing dance tune.

Considering elements such as the incorporation of a pub into this song, it does seem likely that many nursery rhymes were not actually written for children. According to Kay Vandergrift, Professor Emerita of Children’s Literature at Rutgers University, most of them were part of an oral-based society that relayed news, spread coded rumours about authority figures, and worked out its moral dilemmas in rhyme and song. Existing nonsense rhymes would be adapted to make references to current events. It was not until the 19th century and the Victorian romanticising of childhood the past that nursery rhymes were written down and presented in collections for small children.

The poems are inhabited by kings and queens, peasants and drunkards, historical and mythical characters from a wild, often rural past. They predate many of our modern preferences, yet they are still relevant to today’s children and parents.

The world that spawned the rhymes seems far away from our modern lives, but the reasons people sang nursery rhymes are still the same.

Why Nursery Rhymes are Important

The dish ran away with the spoon…

Adults instinctively converse with babies using a sing- song voice with short, repetitive phrases and long pauses for the baby to respond.

This ‘dialect’ can be described as musical in its characteristics of rhythm, timing and rising and falling pitch. The qualities for relating well to babies and toddlers are also the basis of music, a nice synchronicity, since music is a means for bringing people together.

The way in which parents interact with their baby is vital to the baby’s development. It has been found that mothers who are having difficulty relating or who are suffering from depression can be helped if they are encouraged to sing and play musical games with their children. The singing provides a framework to support the mother to baby interaction.

Nursery rhymes fall into two categories:

  • Lullabies – designed to lull a baby to sleep or soothe a fretful toddler, lullabies are an age-old part of childcare in all cultures.
  • One-to-one songs/play songs – more appropriate for older babies and toddlers, these songs. They are sung and played on laps, often featuring actions such as knee joggling, tickling and surprise dips and spills. They are mini dramatic stories full of language, excitement, anticipation and rhythmic movement.

They help infant development and family relationships:

They are good for the brain. The repetition of rhymes and stories teaches language and builds memory. Nursery rhymes also often represent a child’s first experience of literacy. Before a child learns to read, they can see how a book works.

Nursery rhymes preserve generations’ worth of history and culture. Familiar rhymes provide common ground between parents, grandparents and children, and between people who don’t know each other.

Singing is a great group activity. Singing nursery rhymes allows children to feel confident about singing and dancing, engaging them with music and building self esteem.

The moralistic lessons in some rhymes might seem important, but the main message of nursery rhymes is that they are fun to learn and sing. The supposed meanings of the songs and their obscure origins do not detract from their value – the words just sound good and help children discover a shared language, shared experience and a sense of a shared past.

Resource:

http://www.mamalisa.com has lots of great songs and nursery rhymes from around the world. Here’s one we use in our workshops – a Turkish version of Old MacDonald Had a Farm


Contact the Music Workshop Company today!

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Ages 11 to 14: The Barren Years

img_0029The profile of classical music in schools is complex, with provision, inclusion and expectations differing wildly between primary and secondary age groups. Professional cellist and secondary school classroom teacher Sarah Evans describes her experiences of teacher attitudes, her frustration that classical music continues to be viewed as too challenging, and her determination to let her students make up their own minds.

“As a professional musician, I have spent much of my career teaching and promoting classical music. Yet as classical audiences diminish, I feel we are fighting to try and keep our business alive and our careers worth pursuing. When I chose to train as a secondary school music teacher, I was very much conscious of the diminishing returns on my own educational investments and keen to discover why classical music is a dying art.

[image: Tiffany Bailey Flickr]

[image: Tiffany Bailey Flickr]

As a musician, I have many hours giving workshops to children around the country. I have seen the impact these have had both short and long term. Classical musicians are confident taking their skills and enthusiasm to primary schools where students have usually be primed and are almost exclusively enthusiastic and will take part in any activities on offer.

As a teacher I cannot tell you how many year 7 students have shown me what they have learnt at a Royal Opera House Schools’ Matinee, an Opera North singing project, or the Gamelan visits they participated in, sung the songs taught to them by professional singers, or enthused about the instruments they have seen and heard when specialists arrived at their school for a day. Despite the lack of funding for specialist music teachers in primary schools, these students arrive at secondary school pre-enthused, malleable, happy to sing, open minded and in some cases, well educated in a variety of musical genres. As musicians, we feel we have been educating the next generation of audience members.

However, as students reach secondary school, this musical confidence and excitement often wanes. The funding and opportunities for musicians to take part in professionally offered musical projects stops, the time and energy to discover new genres and musical paths by students stops as exam pressure kicks in, and as teenage hormones kick in, we as teachers often resort to the path of least resistance – giving them the music they are already familiar with.

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In my 17 years of giving workshops to schools and communities, I only once had the opportunity to visit a secondary school, and that was to play briefly to GCSE students – scary enough in my pre-teacher days. As a musician, the thought of trying to engage 32, 11-14 year olds filled me with dread. As a teacher, KS3 lessons can at times be a fight: Students know they can drop music at the end of year 8 or 9, so bad grades will have no impact on their future. And yet this is the age that we need to be targeting. Students start forming staunch opinions about what they do and don’t like at this stage and without giving them options, they cannot make informed choices.

There is too little support for secondary school teachers in the realms of classical music. Many schemes and projects have been recently formed to ‘gee-up’ music in the secondary school classroom, but almost all of it leaves classical music (and other equally exciting genres) as the poor cousin to rock and pop, and non-classically trained musicians somewhat in the dark.

I recently attended a secondary music teachers course and also taught in a secondary school, where my admission that I taught western notation to Year 7 and that we studied classical music in a positive way was met with shock and distain. Why was I bothering?

Teachers asked if anyone had ideas as to what classical music they could teach KS3 (years 7-9) which might be engaging as they now have to prepare their students for the new (classically inclusive) GCSE. The only responses from other music teachers? Pachelbel’s Canon, “as they can write pop songs from it,” and, “The Alton Towers Theme Tune, because they all know it.”

[image: Tiffany Bailey Flickr]

[image: Tiffany Bailey Flickr]

If classical music appears inaccessible to music teachers and musicians cannot access funding to offer support, how are we to engage the next generation of classical audience? The BBC 10 Pieces scheme is accessible, pre-planned, full of resources, engaging and challenging – it is frankly, brilliant – but teachers are still wary of starting it as the vicious circle of classical music being ‘boring’ still exists. As we all know, boring is a term used frequently by teenagers. It mostly hides a fear from lack of understanding. As teachers we are shattered and yes and if we are lucky, our departments will be given enough money in the year to rub a ukulele and a drum stick together. But we have a responsibility to challenge students, to introduce them to things that they may not otherwise come across, to break down barriers, to try new ideas and to do this without prejudice.

Listening is free, a highly underused resource in music classrooms and this is often where professional workshops succeed. Regularly offering up examples of all styles of classical music, telling the stories behind the music, the dirty details of the composers and making it interesting is so invaluable to producing students confident to engage with the genre. Now, I am not saying that classical music is in anyway the purest art form, that students will all instantly adore Beethoven, nor that it should be taught exclusively in schools. Our lives need balance and we should be opening our students’ eyes to as many musical genres as we can. But as teachers and musicians, we should be doing our research, challenging our own fears and preferences and offering up the full smorgesbord of experiences that music has to offer. As an industry, classical music could be doing so much more here to support schools, in the same way it does at primary school level. I feel exceptionally lucky to have taught in a school where all musical genres were promoted and encouraged in and out of the classroom from day one. As a result, students who set up their own Renaissance choral group and Indian classical group sat alongside those who set up their own funk band, those in the school musical and those who DJ’d.

Our opinions are based on what we know. If we don’t regularly offer children as many choices as possible throughout their education, we are limiting their options. Doing this purely at primary school age and again at GCSE is not enough – we need more funding, more education and less fear of the existing preferences of students between 11 and 14. As classical musicians and as teachers, we need to consider these barren years of KS3 if we are to train up the audiences of tomorrow.”

Sarah Evans is a professional cellist who trained at The Royal Academy of Music and Trinity College of Music. She is a qualified secondary school classroom teacher originally working in schools in London and more recently, Yorkshire.  

From Small Beginnings to Big Impact Learning

6082091This month marks the 14th birthday of the Music Workshop Company. To celebrate, Maria Thomas, Founder and Artistic Director, tells us about her inspiraton, highlights and vision for the future. Alongside her work at MWC, Maria is Programme Leader for the Music Industry Management Programme at the University of Hertfordshire. Her specialism is entrepreneurship and small business.

Why music?

“Both my parents are music teachers and keen semi-professional musicians, so I was introduced from music from a very young age. I learnt to read music when I learnt to read words, and played recorder and piano from the age of 3. I took up the oboe when I was 9: I wanted to play the trombone but my arms weren’t long enough! The oboe gave me the opportunity to play regularly in a fabulous range of ensembles including orchestras and wind bands. When I was about 14, the music service had vacancies for bassoon players and saxophone players. I looked into playing bassoon, my arms still weren’t long enough! So I took up saxophone alongside oboe, recorder and piano.”

Beginnings…

200-0-706-0-6469-10000-1243-2“I studied oboe at Trinity College of Music (now Trinity Laban) on what had been called the BMus Plus course, which offered students the chance to tailor their studies to their interests. We were introduced to workshop skills in our first year and I loved visiting schools working with children on performance and composition. I was very lucky to have an inspirational workshop skills tutor, Kate Buchanan, who encouraged me and allowed me to sit in on workshops she was leading. Whilst at College I had vague ideas of working with other musicians to run workshops, but I never thought I’d end up setting up and running a business!

I loved visiting schools working with children on performance and composition

In my final term at Trinity, Kate told me about an internship opportunity that was being advertised through the Education Department at The Royal Opera House. As a big opera fan, I applied immediately. The job was in the Orchestra Office and after a summer of interning, I was able to join the team in a full time role, working with the orchestra, stage bands, as well as co-ordinating auditions, chamber music concerts and Health and Safety.

While I was at the Opera House I began to think seriously about the idea of setting up a kind of agency supplying workshops to schools. I knew teachers who were keen to have workshops but didn’t always know what would work for them, or which musicians would be best, and I knew lots of musicians who were running inspiring workshops. So I left the Opera House to set MWC up as a bridge between the two.”

The idea…

“One thing I was keen to do was to create the projects that schools wanted. Other workshops organisations who were around at the time each had one specialism – one would feature singing, another African drumming – I wanted MWC to be able to offer a wide range of projects that could be tailored exactly to the school’s need.

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At the beginning I really didn’t know much about running a business, and although I was lucky enough to have support from my local Enterprise Agency with advice on contracts and general marketing, they didn’t know the specifics of working in Arts Education. I wish I had known more about running a business before I launched MWC, that’s why I’m so passionate about my work at the University. It’s very full on, and I try to ensure that my students know both the real life challenges and benefits of running their own business. I have learnt a great deal through trial and error.”

Growing the business…

“Our initial market was schools as that is where my experience lay, but since launching we have worked with a wide range of organisations such as community groups, event managers, businesses and Universities.

The growth into areas such as community groups and businesses was not something I originally planned, but we have worked with a great range of people from Brownie camps in Lancashire to businesses in Southampton. The team has grown: What started with just me in the office and a team of 5 musicians is now a business with up to 4 people in the office and 40 musicians!”

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The future of music…

“I am passionate about access to music for everyone and schools offer a great opportunity to give children and young people the chance to actively take part in music making. We hope to inspire people to follow up their MWC experience through school or online resources. One of my favourite experiences is when we run open workshops in venues such as shopping centres. Children have the chance to show parents the rhythms they have learnt at school or adults come and join in having not played an instrument since they were at school.

I believe that Music and the Arts should be an integral part of education at all levels

I believe that Music and the Arts should be an integral part of education at all levels. So many skills are developed: Team work, performance skills, motor skills, language skills and confidence… So much research shows that access to the Arts is a vital part of life, we need to do everything we can to widen access both in schools and out.”

The vision…

“MWC visits a wide range of schools, many of which are doing great work at engaging children and young people with music and see it as an important part of school life. few see a one-off workshop as their obligation to music completed, which I think is very sad.

maria-djembeMy hope for music education is that it is compulsory for all schools to engage with music up to Year 10 and that students are encouraged and supported to take part in musical activities post Year 10, whether that be playing in a band, attending concerts or just playing for their own pleasure.

I hope that MWC inspires participants, through exposing them to new genres of music or inspiring them with our talented workshop leaders who bring their performing expertise to the workshops. I’m also keen to develop MWC’s online learning resources. The archives of blogs, articles and Top Tips are growing but we have plans to develop this further with more teaching resources.”

The inspiration…

“I love everything about running music workshops! I enjoy liaising with the clients to find out what it is they are looking for and leading a workshop, but my favourite moment is when the participants perform the piece they have been working on whether it’s an informal performance at the end of the session or a performance in a school assembly. Seeing the development from a group who may never have seen that particular instrument through to an ensemble that can perform a piece is something I find hugely rewarding.

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I also love returning to work with the same group over time. One of the groups I have worked with is a local adult Mencap Group. I’ve been running workshops for them since 2007 and have got to know the members really well. It’s great to repeat their favourite activities alongside introducing them to new instruments and rhythms.”

About MWC…

The Music Workshop company (MWC) aims to supply high quality, bespoke, interactive and fun workshops to clients. We aim to supply the workshop on the date of choice and follow the timetable of choice. We can create a workshop that is just for fun such as for Arts Week or Cultural Week or meet specific outcomes such as preparing for a performance, linking to GCSE / A-Level set works. This can be a challenge as if people haven’t had workshops before they don’t know what to ask for – or they have had a workshop in the past and want an exact replica and we might supply something slightly different.

 

Learning at Handel & Hendrix in London

On February 10th, 2016, The Handel House Trust opened a new exhibit to the public – the London flat directly next door to Handel House, where singer, songwriter and guitarist Jimi Hendrix lived for a brief time during the late 60’s. Claire Davies, Head of Learning and Participation at Handel and Hendrix in London, shares her passion for the two great musicians…

“Separated by a wall and 200 years are the homes of George Frideric Handel and Jimi Hendrix, two artists who chose London and changed music. And now these special rooms are open to the public as Handel & Hendrix in London.

We are an organisation dedicated to promoting knowledge, awareness and enjoyment of Handel, Hendrix and their music to as wide an audience as possible through music performances, educational and outreach activities and collecting, exhibiting and interpreting objects from their lives. As the Head of Learning and Participation, I get the privilege of facilitating these activities and one of my favourite parts of this job is organising school workshops.

The rich history enveloped in the walls of these two great properties is at the epicentre of all our activities and the lives of our two famous residents whilst they lived here are fascinating.

Although Handel was born in Germany in 1685, by the time he died in 1759 he was a famous Londoner. He moved into 25 Brook Street in 1723 at the age of 38 and stayed here for the rest of his life. This was Handel’s first home of his own and he wrote over 600 pieces of music here. It was a great location for Handel’s work because it was close to the theatres in Covent Garden and Soho and to the Royal Family at St. James’s Palace. Brook Street was both residential and commercial with perfumers and apothecaries, gin shops and coffee houses near-by. Handel’s neighbours included a mixture of middle-class tradesmen and titled ‘people of quality’.

Hendrix was born in America in 1942. In 1966, at the age of 23, he was scouted and brought over to London by Chas Chandler, a member of the British band, The Animals. In London Hendrix, with Chandler as his manager, set up a band called the Experience and his career took off. In 1968 he moved into the top flop flat at 23 Brook Street and lived there until March 1969 with his then girlfriend, Kathy Etchingham. After a tumultuous childhood, a stint in the army and years of touring, this year in Hendrix’s life was his first and only period of real domesticity. He referred to 23 Brook Street as ‘the first real home of my own’.

6. The main room of 23 Brook Street

Hendrix used the flat as his base, giving interviews, writing new songs, and preparing for his February concerts at the Royal Albert Hall. On learning that Handel used to live next door he went with Etchingham to the HMV on Oxford Street and bought some classical albums including Handel’s Messiah and Water Music. Brook Street was the doorstep to the London music scene of the late 1960s. His flat was a short stroll from legendary venues like the Marquee, the Speakeasy and The Scotch of St James and he would spend many evenings wandering from club to club looking for a chance to play.

Today these great homes have been faithfully restored; it’s like stepping into the private and intimate worlds of two great geniuses. Handel House opened its doors in 2001 and it wasn’t until February 2016 that the Hendrix Flat was opened to join forces with its neighbour.

In conjunction with the opening we have created lots of new learning programmes including a new series of workshops for schools. We were concerned about how to create workshops that include both the music and lives of Handel and Hendrix in one sitting without them competing against one another. Our solution was to create a musical time machine that takes the students back in time as newspaper journalists who have to experience the London lives of both Handel and Hendrix in sequence looking at the differences a similarities of two time periods that are 200 years apart. The crucial part of this is that they end up back in the present with the prompt to think about the differences and similarities between the 18th century, the 1960s and the present day. This is skilfully aided by our in-house composers who, during the time travel journey, deconstruct the music of both men to show layers of composition technique that relate to the way that music is composed today.

The session is split into two halves: a trip around the historic rooms with our history buffs and a musical workshop with our composers where all of their investigations and observations of music from the past are brought together to create a brand new composition of their own. The trip around the buildings start with a look at objects and costumes and every child is encouraged to choose a piece of costume to wear as they walk around the rooms; it’s an eclectic sight of colour and texture! There is a focus on the differences and similarities between Handel’s bedroom with Hendrix’s bedroom and the children’s bedrooms at home to really hone in on our main objective of empathy.

The programme has been adapted to all learning key stages but we tailor make the content to make it as relevant as possible to what the students are learning at school. For older year groups, such as GCSE and A Level groups, we work with the students on specific set works, whether it be a 1960s pop song or a baroque chorus to aid them in their exam preparations.

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With the money kindly donated to us from the Heritage Lottery Fund to open the Hendrix Flat, we were able to build a new learning space with an interactive screen and sound proofing so we can make as much noise as possible! Students also get the benefit of opening up a harpsichord to see how it works, to have a go on an electric guitar, see copies of Handel’s manuscripts and see a 1960s record player in action. With all of these fun and engaging resources both school groups and the learning team end up having lots of fun.”

To find out more about the work at Handel and Hendrix, and to see a selection of learning resources on offer, visit the website at www.handelhendrix.org/learn

 

Capture the Moment

One of the things we make sure to encourage in our workshops here at the Music Workshop Company is the recording of every performance or workshop process, whether using photography, video or audio. This is such an important element both for the participants and the school.

Taking part in a performance is a big deal for a lot of students and it is valuable to document their achievements. When you think about a stage show, its full run and publicity, it is the high quality images that really make you remember the event.

Splaat Media is a Hertfordshire-based business that takes this idea to its conclusion. Founded in 2010 by Greg McClarnon, a recent award-winning graduate from the University of Hertfordshire Business School, the company provides a free professional photography service for school productions and events.

We caught up with Greg to find out more about Splaat Media and what motivated him to start the business…

What does Splaat Media do?

We go into schools and live events to take photographs, capturing all the best moments. We work with international drama festivals and various independent and state schools across the country. Last year we provided photography to over 650 schools.

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Why do you think it’s important to offer photographs of events?

Often schools and sports clubs put so much time and effort into organising their school productions, sports days and prize-giving ceremonies only for it to all come to an end with no high quality memory being taken. Capturing all the best moments at these events has become a whole lot easier with the use of photography, and it’s now possible to provide parents, schools and clubs with the opportunity to keep a permanent record of their child’s or students’ achievements. For the children too, it becomes a proud reminder of something they have accomplished.

How does Splaat Media work?

We come into schools and clubs for free, meaning that there is no need to pay for an external, and often expensive, photographer. All the school or club needs to do is provide us with time, date and location. We’ll do everything else for them, scheduling the event into our calendar and assigning it to one of our team to photograph.

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We also offer a different level of service depending on the type of event. If the event is a drama or dance show, we take the photographs at the dress rehearsal and create an eye-catching display of prints for the parents to view after the show. We upload the pictures to our website for parents to view later.

For events like sports days and prize-giving ceremonies, we offer a live event photography service. At prize-giving ceremonies, our photographers take the pictures, and as the ceremony takes place we print the photos. Parents can take away a photographic memory of their child’s achievement straight away.

At sports days we provide prints on the day of the event, and we also allow parents to look through the photos, pick their favourites and purchase them on our tablet computers, using our Splaat photo app. They can instantly take away high quality photos of their favourite moments.

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So if you have a school show or other important event that you’d like to have documented at a professional level, Splaat Media might be able to help. Greg’s business has received glowing reviews and several repeat clients and the photographs are professional quality, creative and really capture the intensity of the students’ experience.

image001Contact details for Splaat Media can be found on the website at www.splaatmedia.co.uk or you can follow on Twitter @splaatmedia or Facebook.

Drums of the World

It’s International Drum Month, and to celebrate, the MWC team have been exploring the world of drums – and the drums of the World.

There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of types of drum. They differ in sound, playing technique and materials, but also in their cultural and musical significance. Some drums have developed for dancing or performance music, others are vehicles for group experiences, meditative, celebratory and even military use.

What is a drum?

800px-Velociraptor-by-Salvatore-Rabito-AlcónA drum is a member of the percussion family of instruments. It is classed as a membranophone, which is a great word that sounds like a species of dinosaur!

What it actually means is that a drum consists of a membrane or skin stretched over a shell or vessel.

Drums can be made from anything – wood, metal, ceramic, plastic or even plants such as gourds. Junk percussion has become popular too, with instruments made from discarded and recycled materials. Sound is produced by hitting the membrane either with the hands, or with beaters or drumsticks.

Most drums are classified as non-tuned percussion. This means they are of indefinite pitch, they don’t play any particular notes. But some drums are tuned to definite pitches. Orchestral kettledrums, (timpani) are always scored to have specific notes, and Indian tabla drums are not just tuned, they play different pitches depending on the technique used to strike them. As the sound decays, the player applies pressure with the heel of the hand, which changes the pitch.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERAWhen the tabla is practised as a solo instrument it will not necessarily be tuned, but when used as an accompanying instrument it will be tuned to specific notes, normally the first note of the octave, known as sadja or sa in Indian music (the tonic). The range of notes is fairly limited, so depending on the key of the music, the drum may be tuned to the fifth (pa) or fourth (ma).

The drum is tuned using wooden pegs called gattas. These are used to increase and decrease the tension of the skin. Pulling the gattas down increases the pitch as the skin becomes tighter, just like winding up a violin string will make its pitch higher. Pulling them up decreases the pitch. This mechanism is common in tuned drums – orchestral kettledrums have a modernised but similar system.

I do love the tabla. It’s so resonant it’s almost vocal, and the Tintal rhythm patterns add hypnotic energy to Indian music. I can’t get enough! Matthew Forbes, Cellist, Composer and Workshop Leader

Drums are found throughout the world and in all world music. Africa, Latin America, Asia and Europe all have their own drum music, and each has a huge variety of percussion instruments.

Early evidence of drums include an image of a man-sized bass drum on a Sumerian vase which dates from around 3000 years BCE, and at least four sizes of drums were used in ancient Mesopotamia. Instruments from Ancient Egypt dating to around 1800 BCE have been discovered, and drums are mentioned in one of the earliest Chinese poems dating from 1135 BCE.

Drums seem to have reached Europe during the Crusading Era in the 12th century, where often they were played with a stick in one hand while the musician played a small pipe at the same time. This combination was often used for accompanying dance. Much more significant to the orchestral world was the arrival of the Arabian naker or naqqarah in the 13th Century, a small kettledrum, a modern version of which is now found in most symphony orchestras.

When most of us think of drums, the first thing that springs to mind is the drum kit (or drum set, as the American’s call it). A typical drum kit includes a snare drum, tom-toms, bass drum and cymbals such as hi-hat and ride. No pop or rock band is complete without one.

Check out this video to find out about the history of the modern drum kit…

Drums are played in so many other musical groups too. Brazilian samba is music for dancing, played in ensembles of many percussion instruments. Samba is an energetic music that immediately creates a positive, carnival atmosphere, and it’s a great way in to ensemble playing. It’s also a proactive way to start a workshop with participants who may not be confident instrumentalists. MWC Workshop Leader Chris Woodham says,

The starting point with all of my workshops, composition or otherwise, is drumming. That’s the way in, and the way into the students understanding that I’m an expert. It’s accessible; everybody can hold a drumstick; and I’ve found that it’s a great way to get everybody involved and working towards the same goal.

Read more about Samba music in our post, The Samba Workshop – How it Works.

For MWC Founder, Maria, the drum is the perfect instrument.

They are fabulous. It’s easy to get a sound from a drum, but extremely difficult to become a real drummer, whether you’re playing drum kit, djembes or tabla. Playing drums is very physical. It’s a great feeling to feel the vibrations of a drum passing through your body. I really enjoy playing djembes as part of a drumming circle. The energy and intricate rhythms are so powerful.

HHCMF14s-34The djembe is an interesting hand-drum from West Africa. The drum was used by storytellers and healers, as well as for ceremonial occasions. It is interesting to note that the power of musical vibration was considered significant for much more than entertainment purposes in so many ancient cultures – a holistic view that is once again becoming integrated into our awareness. You can read much more about the djembe and the benefits of drumming in our African drumming blog.

If you would like to find out more about drums and drumming, or to book one of our workshops in African Drumming, Samba, Junk Percussion or other drumming techniques, please contact us. We’d love to hear from you!

English Folk Dance – Swords, Sticks and Ribbons

There is a huge variety of dance associated with English folk music, some of it quite alien to modern culture. Folk music was either written as song or for dancing, and the dances have deep roots in the social history of England, as well as offering an insight into agriculture, industry and cultural diversity.

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Our English Folk and Ceilidh workshops at the Music Workshop Company explore the music of England through dance and song.

Ceilidh, an accessible social dance typical of Ireland, Scotland and England, in which participants learn the patterns and steps of traditional dances from a caller, has recently become popular for weddings and parties, but there is much more to folk dance than a good old barn dance.

On the first of May, May Day, celebrations were typically held to mark the arrival of spring. A young girl from the town or village would be selected as May Queen, and crowned to preside over the party, a bit like the Prom Queen at a modern high-school. A maypole decorated with garlands of flowers would form the centre of a dance, and dancers would circle the pole to music.

Later, long coloured ribbons were attached to the top of the pole, and the traditional and recognisable maypole dance was born. Each dancer would hold one length of ribbon, and they would weave in and out around the pole, in complex patterns, until the ribbons had been wound onto the pole. They would then reverse the dance to unwind the ribbons. The maypole was a source of huge local pride and competition, and it was common for one village to play a prank on another by stealing the top half of their maypole the night before May Day!

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Maypoles and maypole dancing were declared illegal during the reign of Edward VI as the Reformation took hold, and the practice was seen as idolatrous and therefore immoral. Many poles were destroyed, including the famous Cornhill May Pole of London, and the maypole at Castle Bytham in Lincolnshire was cut in half for use as a ladder. The practice was reinstated under Mary I, but never became as popular or widespread as it had been.

Morris_dancing_outside_the_Gerneral_Havelock,_HastingsMorris dance is a form of rhythmic stepping dance, performed to traditional regional tunes. It is unclear where the dance got its name, although it’s possible it arose as part of the 15th Century fashion for “Moorish” spectacle. The dances have similarities with Italian folk dance. The dancers often wear costumes decked with colourful ribbons and tie small bells around their ankles for a percussive sound, and it was traditional for some dance teams to black-up their faces. It is unclear whether this is a reference to the Moors, miners or a common disguise used by beggars.

Morris dancers from the Cotswolds use handkerchiefs and wooden sticks as part of the dance, whereas Rapper Morris Men from Northumberland use short, flexible steel swords, blurring the line between Morris dancing and Sword Dancing.

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The Long-Sword Dance is a traditional Yorkshire dance, using long, rigid wooden or metal swords. These dances came from the mills, the mines and in the case of sword dances, from military training exercises. They were danced in village teams.

Clogging, or English clog dancing is yet another form of traditional dance. Developed during the Industrial Revolution, it is thought to have come initially from the Lancashire cotton mills. Wooden-soled shoes were preferred in the mills, as the floors were kept wet to provide the humidity needed for spinning cotton. Workers would tap their feet in time with their machines in order to keep their feet warm. On breaks they would have competitions to see who could make the best rhythmic patterns.

Clogging is still a popular competition dance in modern traditional music circles. The dancer uses the heel and toe of the shoes musically to create rhythmic patterns on the floor. Clog dancing styles exist in Durham, Northumberland, Lancashire, Yorkshire and Derbyshire and contain a wide array of techniques and rhythms.

Here’s a great short video of the Unthank sisters performing a traditional clog dance from Northumberland to some rather untraditional instrumentation…

The barn dance is a social tradition. This is the dance where everyone joins in, dancing together, like the Gaelic Ceilidh. Many traditional dances are based around introducing the men and women, so often dancers will start the dance with one partner and dance with many others during the set. These dances would facilitate the courtship and marriage of young people. In England the dances evolved slightly differently from the Irish and Scottish counterparts, using a slower tempo of tune and different variants of a step-hop step depending on region.

If you would like to find out more about English Dance from your region, contact the English Folk Dance and Song Society, who hold an extensive archive of tunes and information. Contact the Music Workshop Company to book one of our English Song and Dance Workshops.

Planning the Perfect Workshop

Maria and the Music Workshop Company Team are gearing up for the Rhinegold Music Education Expo, which will take place on March 12th and 13th at London’s Barbican Centre. This year we’re excited to be holding consultation sessions for clients, helping you get the most out of your music workshops.

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We particularly love creating bespoke projects, understanding your needs and making a music workshop that absolutely fits the bill. The finished event should be an enjoyable and straightforward experience, so we’ve put together a simple guide for anyone planning a music workshop, based on our experience of things that sometimes get missed and cause hiccups on the day!

Planning and Design

You will find that the more notice you can allow for the design and planning of a workshop, the easier it will be. We often accommodate workshops at short notice, but ideally prefer a month to prepare for a workshop. This gives us time to get to the heart of what you need and fit in with every aspect, from topic and curriculum to students, instruments and scheduling.

Who Should Call Us?

It’s easiest for us when your enquiry comes directly from the decision maker, whether that’s the Head of Music, Head Teacher or another project leader. We always aim to respond to enquiries within one working day. With any bespoke project, we plan each element to suit and it can be difficult to assess exactly what is required without speaking to the right person.

The more information you can give us on enquiry, the more detailed our proposal can be. For example, if you want the workshop on a specific day, let us know. How many groups or participants will be involved? What outcomes do you want? Is the focus on a multi-cultural day, G.C.S.E. coursework, or Arts Week, or do you want the workshop linked to a theme or topic of study?

Confirmation and Contracts

Our workshops are confirmed by email with contracts, and terms and conditions emailed out.

If you are waiting for confirmation of funding, or need time to assess the number of potential participants, workshop dates can be held for you, but workshops do then need to be booked within one month of the original enquiry.

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To hold an effective workshop, we need enough space for all the participants to sit in a circle.

Remember, workshop noise levels can be quite high (particularly for Samba!) so it’s important to be somewhere where other people won’t be disturbed. It’s also best to be somewhere that others won’t disturb the workshop. This can be challenging to be in a hall at the centre of a school where people are walking in and out, so plan your workshop space carefully. However, we will always do our best to accommodate the facilities you have.

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We do need to be made aware of any venue challenges. For example, if the space we’ll be using for the workshop is only accessible by stairs and there is no lift, it’s important to know so we can get any heavy equipment in place.

Fees and Invoicing

All our prices are fully inclusive and include the musicians’ time, planning, set up, the duration of the workshop, use of instruments (where supplied), travel, administration and public liability insurance.

Our quotes are valid until the end of the following academic year, so a quote given in October 2015 will be valid for a workshop held before August 2017.

Workshops are usually invoiced after the date, but if it makes the payment process easier we can supply the invoice in advance. Payment is due within 14 days, as specified in our terms and conditions. We ask to be made aware if you are not able to meet the 14-day payment terms, which can be the case if payments for your school are issued centrally by the local authority. It is useful for us to have the contact details of the bursar or finance manager, so we can liaise directly regarding payment.

If you reach the end of the financial year with money left to spend, we can invoice you in advance for a workshop you book for later in the academic year. This means you can count the invoice in one financial year, for a workshop in the next.

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Workshop Day – Final Thoughts

It’s the small things that make a difference to the smooth running of a workshop on the day, so here are a few things that help us:

  • Please ensure the school office know about the workshop. It can be confusing for a musician to turn up and feel they’re not expected.
  • Please ensure there is somewhere for the musician to unload instruments, preferably close to the workshop space.
  • It takes about 30 minutes for the musician to get unloaded and set up, so if the workshop co-ordinator is not able to meet the musician, please arrange for someone else to show them the workshop space and allow them to get unloaded.
  • Help in unloading the instruments is always appreciated.
  • Access to the staff room for hot drinks and toilets is also appreciated.

We look forward to seeing you at the Expo if you can make it. Meanwhile if you’d like to book a consultation or speak to us about booking a workshop, contact us for a chat.

 

Body Percussion – You Make the Music

Body percussion is a brilliant way to warm up for a music workshop, and a useful tool for creating music in a group. It is incredibly accessible; the human body is an instrument every participant possesses. It is also valuable for internalising fundamental musical concepts including rhythm, beat and tempo.

I love Body Percussion because it’s a high energy, very accessible art-form. Seeing the amazing ideas that workshop participants come up with is brilliant, as is the reaction when they see what is possible when making beats on your body!

Ollie Tunmer, Body Percussion specialist and MWC Workshop Leader

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As a group warm-up activity, body percussion stimulates circulation and creates an energy in which it is impossible to feel self-conscious. As a musicianship tool, it provides strategies to equip students with a collective sense of pulse, memory for different rhythms and the opportunity to full engage with the musical material.

In composition it provides an inspiring way to explore sound, rhythm and the physical relationship with music.

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It is also an engaging way to explore the music of World cultures. The folk traditions of many countries include the use of body percussion. The Juba, or hambone dance from West Africa became a traditional dance among African-American slaves in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Slaves were forbidden from owning rhythm instruments for fear of secret codes hidden in the drumming. Instead they created music using body percussion, stamping the feet, slapping and patting the arms, legs, chest, and cheeks. This percussive dance, originally known as “Pattin’ Juba,” would be used to keep time for other dances. Steps had incredibly descriptive names such as “Yaller Cat,” “Pigeon Wing” and “Blow That Candle Out.”

Other traditions that use body percussion include the palmas, or intricate hand claps in Spanish Flamenco music, tap dancing and Ethiopian armpit music.

Body percussion works on the same basis as any percussion instrument, but uses the body to create the different vibrations and sounds. These can include:

  • Stamping the feet on the floor
  • Patting the thighs with open palms
  • Clicking the fingers
  • Clapping the hands
  • Patting or knocking the chest
  • Slapping the cheeks with an open mouth
  • Clicking the tongue

Inhaling and exhaling air, and various vocal noises including grunting and whistling can add to the repertoire of tones, and sounds can be adapted to create different effects. For example, clapping the hands in different positions will change the pitch and resonance.

Body percussion can be performed solo, but it is exhilarating as an ensemble activity, both to performers and audience members. The well-known percussion group Stomp use a combination of non-traditional, junk percussion instruments and body percussion in their performances.

Body percussion has many possibilities. It can be adapted for any age and ability. It can be introduced into a diverse range of workshops, from African Drumming or African Songs, to Composition workshops. It can be used as a warm-up, an icebreaker or a full workshop.

You can use existing games and ideas or create your own.

Watch composer Steve Reich Steve Reich explain his piece Clapping Music, and the inspiration behind it.

Here are some simple ideas from the Music Workshop Company to get you started.

Warm up

This can be done seated or standing.

Start with a copying activity. Start with four beats to establish a beat. Clap a rhythm that fits into a four – beat bar. Keeping to time the group should repeat the rhythm.

Gradually make the rhythms more complex. If the group doesn’t quite catch one of the rhythms, repeat it once or twice. Don’t comment on whether the repetition was correct or not, just repeat it.

Keep talking and instructions to a minimum, but make eye contact with every member of the group.

Start to add other body sounds; knee slap, click, stamp, chest…

Vary the dynamics, but keep the pulse the same throughout.

This warm-up can be developed by getting participants to create their own rhythms for everyone to copy. Either ask for volunteers or working round the group.

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Vocal activity

Try making up a call and response vocal activity using speech and percussive vocal sounds.

Participants can take it in turn to lead this game, and it can be varied using different tempi and dynamics, or by adding more physical sounds such as stamping the feet and clapping hands.

Body Percussion Patterns

Begin to build up a body percussion piece by setting up an eight beat pattern, such as this:

Feet       Feet

Leg        Leg

Belly     Belly

Clap

This can be developed in a number of ways, for example as an ensemble piece using similar ideas to Reich’s Clapping Piece.

Watch some body percussion performers and use your imagination to create your own rhythms, sounds and games. You can even develop ways to notate your piece, deciding on symbols for each sound and rhythmic pattern, and finding creative ways to write them down in your group.


Contact the Music Workshop Company to book your Body Percussion Workshop and begin your exploration of musical possibility!

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

As Christmas approaches, there’s always a race for the number-one spot in the charts. This year the Music Workshop Company team have been discussing their favourite seasonal music and have come up with their own top songs. Here’s a little bit about each of the team and their Christmas choices.

Maria Thomas is the Artistic Director and Founder of The Music Workshop Company. She specialises in Early Years, Creativity workshops and World Percussion workshops.

“My favourite is the 1961 song Christmas Time in London Town (words by Frederik Van Pallandt, music by David Flatau).

It was a favourite at my Mum’s school and I love the imagery in the words. It reminds me of trips to London as a child to choose a present in Hamley’s!

I also love the Calypso Carol/O Now Carry Me to Bethlehem, which is another favourite from childhood. I love the Calypso rhythm.”

Matthew Forbes is a cellist who also plays piano, mouth organ, kazoo, djembe, guitar, and mandolin…. And is a composer! Matthew leads workshops on Composition, Song Writing, Indian Music, African Drumming and Ceilidh.

“Easy. It’s Fairytale of New York by Kirsty MacColl and The Pogues. It has everything; sad, funny, ironic, moving, energetic, sentimental and festive. Perfect”

Colin McCann is a percussionist who specialises in Samba workshops but also loves leading Junk Percussion workshops.

“My favourite is In The Bleak Midwinter (words based on a poem by Christina Rossetti and music by Gustav Holst). I love the words; they are so emotive.”

Chris Woodham is a professional percussionist who specialises in World Percussion workshops but also loves leading Composition workshops.

“My favourite Christmas Song is When a Child is Born, by Boney M, (written by Zacar with lyrics by Fred Jay) which was released in 1981, the year of my birth.

It’s from the Christmas Album by Boney M that used to be a firm favourite in the Woodham household.  I’ve always been drawn to reggae, and the album includes lots of lovely ‘reggaefied’ classic songs.  I really like When a Child is born because it uses humming then a full choir and the London Philharmonic Orchestra, also has some spoken word and a key change. What’s not to like! It was recorded at Abbey Road and Air studios both of which I have been lucky enough to work at in the past.”

Sarah Ford is an actor, director and singer, and leads many of our theatrical workshops such as Play in a Day.

“My favourites are Angels from The Realms of Glory (words by James Montgomery to the tune of “Regent Square” UK) and Hark the Herald Angels Sing (music by Felix Mendelssohn, words by Charles Wesley, amended by George Whitefield and Martin Madan).

The first one is because it’s a grand, full-out sing and the second because I love singing the descant.”

Johanna McWeeney is a violinist and journalist who writes and edits the Music Workshop Company blog and newsletters.

“My favourite Christmas piece is Leroy Anderson’s Sleigh Ride, an orchestral piece that dates back to 1948. The lyrics weren’t written until 1950. I just love the melodies, the witty use of percussion and the fun textures from the brass, particularly the horse at the end. It really conjures up Christmas for me and it’s great fun to play.”

Alison Murray is the Project Manager for the Music Workshop Company and liaises with clients to help them find their perfect project.

“Once In Royal David’s City, music composed by Henry John Gauntlet (1805-1876), words written by Cecil Francis Alexander (1818-1895), originally written as a poem.

Why?  The words of the song are so beautifully written, simple yet so meaningful, and of course when you hear the solo at the beginning, the sound is so pure and spine tingling. I have sung this song myself so often, since primary school days (a very long time ago now!) and we always sing it our church crib service, with everyone around the crib holding candles, it’s just magical.”

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